Our online petition “Respect basic human rights in Masoala, Madagascar” has up to date been signed by 318 people from around the world. After we had received 300 signatures, we informed the Deputy of the district of Maroantsetra, the Director of the Masoala National Park and the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Madagascar about the petition. Within a short time we received detailed answers by the park director and by the head of WCS Madagascar.
We have been informed that this year will see a reassessment of the land utilisation plan in connection with Protected Areas in the whole of Madagascar. This is very good news as it is a rare opportunity to change things for the better for local populations.
We have also been informed that the Deputy of the district in which the concerned village lies (district of Maroantsetra) held a meeting on 26/27 April 2016 in order to discuss with high-ranking government staff the issue of local people’s land rights. This, too, is very encouraging indeed.
We will stay tuned to the issue that the people in the village of Marofototra raised in their letter to the Deputy and which gave rise to our petition, and we hope that their needs and rights will find adequate consideration.
Eva Keller, President of the Association, 06/06/2016
In 1997, most of the Masoala peninsula in Madagascar was declared a strictly protected national park. The Masoala National Park has swallowed up some of the land that local communities are using to grow food or were intending to pass on to their children for them to grow food. This reduction of cultivable land is a big problem for many farming families rendering them even poorer than they were before.
Moreover, in several areas the park management has in the past years advanced the park’s de facto boundary so that the park now incorporates even more land than at first. In one community where this has happened – in violation of a written contract between the park management and the local population – the latter have written a letter of complaint asking for the park’s agreed boundary to be respected. This was a year ago. The letter has remained unanswered and without effect.
We have therefore launched a petition giving support to this community’s struggle for the basic human right to have enough land to grow food on.
Eva Keller, founder of Human Rights in Masoala, has been working for many years on a social anthropological research project concerning perceptions of nature conservation in Masoala. Her book BEYOND THE LENS OF CONSERVATION. MALAGASY AND SWISS IMAGINATIONS OF ONE ANOTHER has now been published.
This is what the book’s about:
Nowadays, items of every kind are being driven, shipped and flown around the world. In December, Swiss supermarkets sell Malagasy litchies while the people in Madagascar use Nestlé’s empty condensed milk tins as measuring cups for rice and almost any other non-liquid item. However, not only goods travel the world but also ideas, values and visions which become articulated in global agendas. Nature conservation is one such very prominent contemporary agenda leading to innumerable conservation projects all around the world. The Masoala National Park is one such project, administered by the Malagasy authorities and an US-based conservation NGO and heavily supported by the zoo in Zurich.
The key question that is addressed in the book is this: Does such a cooperation between conservation actors in Switzerland and in Madagascar trigger a connection between people living in these two far-flung places? Does the project provide a bridge of contact between them? In order to answer this question, Eva Keller examines the Masoala National Park from two different points of view: from that of visitors to the Swiss zoo exhibit about the park, on the one hand, and that of Malagasy farmers living at the park’s edge, on the other. What do people in Switzerland and what do people in Madagascar “see” when they look at this particular nature conservation project? Is there anything like a shared view, a shared vision? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. From the point of view of those who look from Switzerland towards Madagascar through the lens of nature conservation, the farmers in Masoala appear as ignorant and deficient. From the point of view of the farmers who look at the park through the lens of Malagasy culture, on the other hand, those who support the park appear as being ill-disposed towards them. Thus, instead of building a bridge, nature conservation in Masoala widens the gap between people in the global North and South.
Eva Keller, 13 March 2015
LAND GRABBING IN MADAGASCAR. ECHOES AND TESTIMONIES FROM THE FIELD is a new comprehensive report over current land grabbing projects in different regions in Madagascar. These include land grabs to produce food or medicinal plants for export, to produce biofuel, to produce timber through reforestation or to extract minerals from the soil.
The report is the result of a cooperation between the Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches-TANY, the civil society organisations platform Solidarité des Intervenants sur le Foncier-SIF and the Italian association Re:Common and is based on two months of observations on the ground and interviews with directly concerned people in 2013.
Next to the various case studies, the report provides a very good overview of the legal framework with regard to land ownership and rights to use land in Madagascar. The report is available both in French and in English.
To access the report (which is an easy read despite its length)
– in English click here
– in French click here
Malagasy farmers are often said to be engaged in agricultural practices that will inevitably lead to the eventual destruction of the exceptional natural environment where they live. In order to prevent such a scenario, it is expected that they should always keep in mind the long-term effects of their subsistence practices. They are expected, for example, to desist from slash-and-burn cultivation because, it is argued, if households continue to engage in this practice, there will be no forest left in a hundred or two hundred years from now.
This type of reasoning fails to recognise fundamentally human aspirations that guide all our lives and that are recognised as legitimate in industrialised societies. Would we, for example, expect a father of three to reject a good job in a Swiss bank because it is known to finance unsustainable practices? We would not. In such a case we would recognise that individuals as human beings are driven by personal aspirations and desires; we would acknowledge the personal circumstances and opportunities behind such a decision.
By contrast, conservation programs often demand of Malagasy farmers, though usually not explicitly, that they sacrifice opportunities to create a livelihood for their children and grandchildren for the sake of saving the life of trees or lemurs. This is to fail to recognise the Malagasy as human beings driven, as we all are, by their personal aspirations and caught up in the complex business of organising life. In this sense, it is to refuse their humanity.
In his essay Marrakech George Orwell writes about the invisibility of the colonised:
‘The people have brown faces – besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? (…) In a tropical landscape one’s eye takes in everything except the human beings. It takes in the dried-up soil, the prickly pear, the palm tree and the distant mountain, but it always misses the peasant hoeing at his patch’ (Orwell 1981: 181, 184).
To expect Malagasy farmers to refrain from clearing a piece of land in order to create productive land for their children implies overlooking the humanity of those in whose lives we allow ourselves to interfere when, for example, we urge the prohibition of slash-and-burn cultivation.
Malagasy agricultural practices are oriented towards the future: they are geared towards the livelihood of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who, in turn, will take the place of their progenitors and continue the endeavour of creating productive land for future generations. To expect farmers to refrain from making a swidden because a thousand swiddens might eventually cause the natural environment to change is to forget that nowhere in the world do human beings – neither Swiss bankers nor Malagasy subsistence farmers – plan their own lives in view and consideration of such long-term goals.
Eva Keller, 4 December 2012
The Collectif pour la Défense des Terres Malgaches has launched an online petition against the expulsion of Malagasy families from their land due to a number of causes. These causes include the creation of protected areas for nature conservation. The example of the Masoala National Park is mentioned in the petition.
On Sunday 24 July (14:30) and Saturday 6 August (01:05), FRANCE 5 will show a documentary called “La lune et le bananier” about the Masoala National Park. Picking up Eva Keller’s work, filmmaker Daniel Serre documents how the Masoala National Park has deprived many local people of important means of livelihood without giving them any proper compensation or an alternative way of making a living.
We have uploaded a link to Just Conservation. Just Conservation is a facebook platform (accessible also to those not on facebook) providing information on issues similar to the ones that Human Rights in Masoala is concerned with. Just Conservation raises concerns about social injustices in connection with environmental conservation in countries around the world. The site includes numerous links to other organisations or groups with similar concerns.
On 14 February 2011, Ambanizana – one of the villages that the documents you find on this website talk about and where Eva Keller has spent many months – was badly damaged by cyclone Bingiza. This has probably been the worst cyclone in the village since 1950. The water flooded the houses reaching a level of almost one metre indoors. Some houses, especially if near the sea, were entirely washed away. Furthermore, people have lost substantial parts of last December’s rice harvest. In villages like Ambanizana, the harvested rice is kept either in a corner indoors or, if available, in granaries (see Slide Show). Much of local people’s rice has got wet during the cyclone and consequently has rotten. Even worse is the fact that certain wet rice fields in the plane were flooded which not only killed the seedlings of the next harvest but covered the fields in sand that was carried along by the sea water. The task ahead of making these fields usable again is enormous. Furthermore, cyclone Bingiza killed the majority of chickens, geese etc. as well as numerous cattle which drowned in the flood.*
If you would like to support the people in Ambanizana or in other villages on the Masoala peninsula in their effort to reorganise their lives, we recommend that you donate to MEDAIR (www.medair.org). Medair is supporting the local people in Ambanizana by providing food as well as seeds for the next harvest and by repairing water pumps. When donating online, state “Madagascar/Ambanizana” when asked to specify which purpose you wish your money to be used for. If you have any problems or questions regarding the activities of Medair in Ambanizana or the Masoala peninsula more generally, you may contact “[email protected]“.
*This information was provided by Eva Keller’s research assistant who lives in the nearby town of Maroantsetra and who went to Ambanizana after the cyclone to inspect the damage.